Dean Close was very pleased to welcome motivational speaker and athlete, Ben Smith, to speak to the whole School in the Bacon Theatre. The inspirational fundraiser, and founder of the 401 Challenge, motivated and moved the pupils with his hard hitting story and passionate message – “anything is possible”.

Ben’s story began when he started boarding school at the age of 10. He attended a school with no pastoral care system and was bullied very badly all the way up until he left school at 18. As a teenager he attempted to take his own life, and slipped into a very deep and dark depression. At university he gained a lot of weight and smoked and drank to excess. At the age of 29, while at work, Ben suffered a TIA (an incomplete stroke) a tragedy he calls his eureka moment.

Ben vowed that he would turn his life around and once he had recovered from the stroke he agreed to go with a friend to a local running club. Overweight and having not exercised since he was a child, this was unsurprisingly a daunting and difficult experience. However, by the end of the session he had completed 5K (jogging and walking) and the great sense of achievement spurred him on to join the club. Ben ran every week and within six months he had completed his first half marathon. Exactly one year on from his first run, he competed the Brighton Marathon, but that wasn’t enough for Ben. He wanted to raise £250,000 for charities that would have helped him as a child and set out to run 401 marathons in 401 days in order to achieve this goal.

The 401 Challenge gained international media attention and Ben was soon dubbed the British Forest Gump! Thousands of supporters joined Ben on his runs and he completed his challenge (despite a broken back during marathon 284!) having smashed his target, raising £330,000 for antibullying charities;Kidscape and Stonewall.

The pupils were hugely inspired by Ben’s talk and asked many questions at the end; Has he run since? What’s his next challenge? Has he managed to get his partner out on a run with him? The runner stayed long after the talk to chat and was more than happy to have selfies with the pupils (and staff!).

Ben continues to raise money for antibullying charities and is now CEO of the 401 Foundation. If you would like to find out more about Ben’s inspiring story or details on how you can donate, please visit his website: http://www.the401challenge.co.uk/